Farm-to-fork production allows Tennessee farmer to buck meat supply instability

Posted at 8:45 AM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 09:46:46-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — After the coronavirus pandemic caused disruption in the meat supply chain, Smokin' Oaks Organic Farm in Cedar Hill, Tennessee, said its in-house production was not affected. Instead, the company grew.

Smokin' Oaks Organic Farm has a butcher shop, market and food truck in Nashville on 8th Avenue S.

The farm raises cattle, hogs, chickens and grows the grain to feed them. When the time comes, their meat is taken to their shop where customers can buy it right off the butcher block.

"There is so much deception now in food marketing and advertising and we believe that folks should be able to buy their food straight from the farmer," explained Smokin' Oaks Organic Farms owner and farmer Justin Head. "That is the that is the guaranteed way to get to know your farmer and deal directly with the farm to get the highest quality and the best food that you can get."

Smokin Oaks Organic Farms Owner & Farmer Justin Head

Head is a third-generation farmer in Robertson County where they have more than 1,000 acres.

"I grew up on a farm here in Cedar Hill, Tennessee. I've always been here and I've always farmed and my dad and my granddad," Head explained. "In 2015, we decided to make the transition to organic. So we started out, we had some grain crops and we had the cattle and which then turned into hogs and the chicken operation as well."

The height of the pandemic put a spotlight on the meat supply chain with inflated meat prices and empty meat shelves at the grocery store, while there was still plenty of livestock on meat farms.

"It's obviously very challenging every time that something changes in the supply line. When you have someone farming it someone process and get someone feeding it out and then another person selling it, you're always dependent on the next person to take that step for you," explained Head.

Meat production companies were asking farmers and ranchers across the U.S. lower than normal prices for their livestock such that many producers decided to hold their animals to wait for a better price and others had no choice but to sell at a price they did not like.

Head said this control from larger companies plagued many types of farmers for years.

"Over the last five years, I would say majority of your Tennessee dairies have gone out of business. Local family farms all around have gone out of business. And so many whether it be on the beef/cattle operation, there are literally no commercial hog operations left here in Tennessee," said Head. "There's just literally less and less of the small family farms all the time."

Smokin Oaks Organic Farm in Ceder Hill, Tennessee, raises cattle, hogs, chicken and the grain to feed them.

Head's farm model does nearly all production in-house, which allowed his company to avoid the nightmare any farmer who sells their meat to a large meatpacking company experienced in the past couple of years.

"On the farm when you get rid of your crops or your animals to a larger company, you don't know exactly where that is going and you don't know exactly how that's being handled. So I felt the need to take the animals from birth to finish and to have the finished product and to take that to the consumer," said Head.

In December he opened the farm's Nashville butcher shop and market. Then in March, he opened a food truck.

"We want to bring that whole full farm to table experience — 'Farm-to-Fork' experience and we want to be able to provide folks with good, obviously, organic meat options, and farm to table meat options and produce options and even with the finished food and cooked food with a deli in the food truck as well," Head explained.

Smokin' Oaks Organic Farm Market sits on 8th Avenue South in Nashville.

"Our big thing is clean food and our big thing is truth in what we say and traceability in our product and it's not being shipped from who knows where, it doesn't have additives in it. It was who knows and ingredients that you can't read. Just good clean, whole food, then straight from the farm," said Head. "There are a few butcher shops, there are a few delis. But none of them come from the farm. We are very unique in that we are the farm. We are the processor. We are the butcher and we are the deli and we are the food truck."

Head said he has not changed his meat prices in five years. It is a pride point of providing local food to local people that he said he hopes to continue.

His hope is that Nashvillians are asking questions about their agriculture and are informed about the food that they eat.

"You have your mechanic and your doctor and your dentist, so why not have your local farmer and know exactly where your food comes from?" Head emphasized.

Read more about Smokin' Oaks on its website or on Instagram.

Justin Head is a third generation farmer in Ceder Hill, Tennessee.